Monday, July 08, 2013

Fun fact of the morning: According to Biblical scholars only 18% of the statements attributed to Jesus were actually said by him.

"Yeah, I never said any of that stuff!"
Courtesy of The Gospel According to Jesus Seminar:  

In March of 1985 Robert Funk, a well known New Testament scholar, presided over the first meeting of a group of scholars that he had convened, dubbed "the Jesus Seminar." Meeting on the campus of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, the group embarked on an unprecedented project, to examine the available sources, canonical and non-canonical, in quest of "the voice of Jesus," i.e. "what he really said."  The procedure would be as follows: the group would meet biennially, each meeting focusing on a particular set of sayings attributed to Jesus with discussion of previously circulated position papers, with the view to achieving a consensus on the authenticity or non-authenticity of each of the sayings. After discussion and debate a vote would be taken, with each participant casting a colored bead into a box. There would be four colors: red, indicating that Jesus undoubtedly said this, or something very close; pink, indicating that Jesus probably said something like this; gray, indicating that Jesus did not say this, though the idea(s) contained in it may reflect something of Jesus' own; and black, indicating that Jesus did not say anything like it, the saying in question reflecting a different or later tradition.  Each color would be assigned a rating (red=3; pink=2; gray=1; black=0), and the results would be tabulated to achieve a "weighted average" on a scale of 1.00 (.7501 and up = red; .5001 to .7500 = pink; .2501 to .5000 = gray; .0000 to .2500 = black). The tabulated votes would be reflected in the published results, in which sayings attributed to Jesus would be color-coded, in a kind of "red-letter edition" of the gospels. 

The Jesus Seminar proceeded in this fashion for six years, averaging around 30 participants per session. From time to time its results would be reported to the press, resulting in newspaper and magazine articles intended for public consumption. The attendant publicity was designed to guarantee an awareness of, and stimulate interest in, the work of the Jesus Seminar among the general public, and to create a ready readership for the published results. Part of the project was also the preparation of a new translation of the gospels, prepared by a group within the Seminar, known as "the Scholars Version." This translation, and the work of the Jesus Seminar as a whole, includes the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, preserved in a Coptic version as part of the Nag Hammadi Codices discovered in Upper Egypt in 1945. The results of all this work appeared in 1993: The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, published by Macmillan in New York. Meanwhile, the Jesus Seminar has embarked on a new phase, designed to answer the question, "What did Jesus really do?" 

 The Five Gospels includes an extensive Introduction, followed by the translation of, and commentary on, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas. After each segment ("pericope") of the gospels in which Jesus is quoted as saying something, commentary is provided explaining why the sayings were colored as they were. Special topics are treated in brief "cameo essays" scattered throughout the book. It should be noted that only 18% of the attributed sayings of Jesus are regarded by the Jesus Seminar as authentic, i.e. receiving a rating of either red or pink. Thus a full 82% of the sayings tradition is counted as inauthentic, i.e. rated as black or gray.

Damn I love stuff like this!

Just a little something for some of you Atheists to toss out during your next argument with that overbearing religious zealot in your family.


  1. Leland2:53 AM

    I agree with you that it is an interesting piece of work and probably quite enlightening. Kind of like "Misquoting Jesus", the book by Bart Erhman.

    On the other hand, in my opinion, only those already predisposed to accept such information would even THINK about considering it as factual. They simply won't believe it and therefore it would only cause more anger toward the atheist in the family for even mentioning such sacrilegious stuff!

    In other words, like they say in the "stupid" movies: Don't try this at home!

  2. Anonymous3:07 AM

    I am not a Christian, and I never heard of the Jesus Seminar until this morning, but it's seems evident from just a quick Google and a trip to Wikipedia that it is not composed of Bible "scholars" and their opinions are no more "fact" than those held by the religious right. It's obvious to most who examine the New Testament with a critical eye that much of it is the result of wishful thinking on the part of its authors, who probably weren't born until several generations after the events they describe. Unfortunately, the Jesus Seminar arrives at it's conclusions using the same uncritical methodology: wishful thinking.

    1. Leland7:42 AM

      unfortunately for your argument, 3:07, a lot of Bible scholars agree with them!

    2. Anonymous10:40 AM

      Like who?

      Sure, a lot of Biblical scholars would maintain that much—maybe most—of the New Testament is nonsense. I happen to be among them. But few legitimate scholars would go along with any of The Jesus Seminar's conclusions. Their findings are arrived at without recourse to anything remotely resembling the scientific method but rather by voting. It's more touchy-feely New Age mumbo jumbo than legitimate scholarship.

    3. Leland11:26 AM

      Like the man I listed above. Or the man that was listed at the very beginning of the article. Read first. THEN complain.

      As for the voting method, isn't that quite similar to what the Cardinals do when voting for the pop? Er, pope?

      Besides, at least the voters RATE their feeling about the so-called quote when they vote. AND, their voting technique says NOTHING about their source of information or their studies involved or the intensity of their studies about a quote.

      And you are worried about the "scientific method" when talking about crap like RELIGION?

    4. I would prefer they were not biblical scholars. Let them be English professors. Let them analyze the writing and content, not the religious tenents.

    5. Anonymous1:34 PM

      For anonymous 10:40 who wrote: Their findings are arrived at without recourse to anything remotely resembling the scientific method but rather by voting.

      Do you mean like the voting that led to the 'virgin birth', mary's ascension into heaven and who knows how many other parts of various Christian creeds?

  3. Anonymous3:13 AM

    This is if you beleive there was even a historical jesus.
    Which there wasn't.

    1. Leland7:43 AM

      Which adds even more weight to their arguments in my book!

  4. Anonymous3:46 AM

    Actually since he wrote none of the books and many of them were not even written by who they are named after I would argue it is quite likely that he never said anything that has been attributed to his authorship.....

  5. Anonymous4:20 AM

    Like that was hard science.

  6. fromthediagonal4:28 AM

    Why would those findings surprise anyone who has a half-way functioning brain? Never mind...

    Now a fashion question about the picture above: Is the guy in the picture wearing a T-Shirt and does it have one of his sayings printed on it?
    Inquiring minds want to know!

  7. Anonymous4:54 AM

    This is why I have been arguing for YEARS that modern day Christians should actually be called Paulists, because most of current doctrine can be attributed to Paul--the erstwhile Jewish Roman citizen Saul who never knew Jesus, actually persecuted adherents of the new cult, and was probably gay (not that there's anything wrong with that, especially in the ancient world).

    Yeah, that made me real popular in Sunday School class. ;)

  8. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Jesus was illiterate. Convenient for the God industry.

  9. Anonymous8:17 AM

    There is more proof for UFOs than there is for Jesus Christ. Why is anyone even wasting time debating what he "said" when there is literally NO authentic historical evidence he even existed at all? The virgin birth/resurrection myths associated with him aren't unique to him, either.

    Sarah Palin may as well tout Santa Claus, it's the same level of authenticity!

  10. I've always thought it interesting that the Encyclopedia Britannica's entry for many years about Jesus was that several figures were written about over 50 years after his supposed crucifixion, but that there was no absolutely no evidence of a provable claim. I'm paraphrasing, of course, and my memory has dimmed a bit since the 80's, when I owned and consulted the EB constantly and entertained my friends (particularly the Catholics) with these known facts.

    Today, I'm assuming that new evidence has been unearthed (so to speak) to attest to a Jesus character (or a specific individual) whose actual words were written down contemporaneously or quoted by others who had their words written down, etc., etc.

    But wait.

  11. Sally in MI9:57 AM

    I bet he never sanctioned Santa Claus as the Alaskan patron saint of Christmas either. Nor was Jesus born in December, but don't tell Sarah. It would ruin her whole book dill.

  12. Leland11:42 AM

    And I STILL find it so hilarious that so many jackasses believe that jesus was a caucasian male!

  13. Did they only do the gospels then?

    That means I can pretty much ignore the rest of the New Testament, mostly Saul's biased, opinionated stuff.


    I hope when they're done with the "what he did" votes they'll print their own version of the New Testament. I'd sure buy a copy.

    But I am disappointed they only chose to cover additional Gospel of Thomas. I understand there is also a Gospel of Mary. I would have liked to see them include that in the vote too.


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